Ten years ago this September, I started my eponymous blog. In Internet time, this is the equivalent of being born in the Paleolithic Era. I have had my ups and downs with the medium. My writing opportunities are better and more variegated than they otherwise would be. On the other hand, the blog affected my day job a bit more than I would have liked at times. Oh, and the comment spam nearly forced me into an early retirement. Nevertheless, after 10 years of doing this, I feel as energized as ever about the medium.
While my enthusiasm remains, the blogging landscape has changed dramatically. What better moment, then to do what bloggers do best -- ruminate about What It All Means. The medium is now firmly entrenched as an important part of the media ecosystem. Many of the people who started blogging at the same time I did are also still around. Two important things have changed, however. First, blogging has become surprisingly respectable. Second, the ongoing conversation among the first generation of bloggers has almost completely evaporated. I will miss those conversations, but I do think more has been gained than lost -- for both the public sphere and foreign-policy analysis.
BEHIND THE BLOGS: THE EARLY YEARS
Here's a confession I've made often: I started blogging because I couldn't publish an op-ed to save my life. Sure, I could get articles accepted into International Organization and the American Journal of Political Science. Alas, these journals don't have much of a policy impact. Every once in a while, I would submit an idea to the Chicago Tribune or Washington Post, and never hear back. As frustration mounted, Web 2.0 technologies were making it easier for technological troglodytes like me to publish on the web. Setting up a blog seemed like a cheap and easy outlet to muse about policy issues every once in a while. So, a year and a day after the Sept. 11 attacks, I started posting at my very own blog (To this day I regret failing to come up with a clever name for it like Atrios or Instapundit. Oh, the T-shirt residuals alone would have been sweet).
The explosion of blogging coincided with the start of a loud and roiling debate over American foreign policy -- above all Iraq. September 2002 was when the Bush administration rolled out its post-9/11 National Security Strategy. Arguments about the wisdom of going to war with Iraq started in earnest. Most of the big bloggers, like most members of the foreign-policy establishment, supported the war. But that support masked a host of heated debates about whether this was the right war at the right time, being prosecuted in the right way -- debates that didn't really seem to be taking place in the mainstream media.
As Operation Iraqi Freedom soured, bloggers, like the rest of the foreign policy community, fractured between those who stood by their endorsement and those who regretted it.
Clearly, I wasn't the only one to have this idea of talking American foreign policy on the blogosphere. Many of the policy bloggers who are now quite prominent started roughly around the same time I did. This led to my first great surprise of blogging -- the joy was in the conversation. I could engage Brad DeLong or Tyler Cowen on economics, Megan McArdle on regulation, Eugene Volokh on the law, Henry Farrell on international political economy, Kevin Drum and Matt Yglesias on politics. I delighted in the back-and-forth. Every once in a while, a blogging god -- Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit"), Josh Marshall, Mickey Kaus -- would link to us, our traffic would spike, and all would be right in the world.
In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell explained that a particular group of New York lawyers struck it rich in litigation because they arrived on the legal scene with a confluence of luck, skill, and will. He could just as well have been talking about policy blogging at the beginning of the 21st century. As a collective, the first generation of bloggers who entered the scene possessed a few key advantages. Contrary to the media's conventional wisdom about bloggers being just a bunch of losers "in pajamas," my cohort was well educated and well trained. Most of us had both advanced degrees and specific areas of policy expertise. All of us were nevertheless willing to engage -- for better or for worse -- on issues beyond our remit. That allowed a rolling conversation on wide-ranging topics, from the merits of Paul Krugman as a columnist to whether the United States was stingy with its aid.